The world is on fire.
We need a global political movement in the broadest, not party-political sense. We cannot go on watching the rainforest burn, the German coal power plants produce CO2 and people as well as millions of animals die in Australia´s bushfires. We need a common and global reaction as “one people on one planet” (OPOP).
What could be the core of the needed societal and political change that every human being in every country could unite behind, and which would fundamentally change the global conditions for our life on earth within ten years?
What could be the framework against which the governments, institutions and movements can be held responsible?
We should go for
(1) fair global, national and local emission budgets which require immediate real emissions reductions instead of abstract goals (like “net-zero 2050” which means nothing in terms of absolute emissions),
(2) a global treaty to keep the fossils in the ground, stopping the financing and building of all new fossil fuel infrastructure while rapidly starting the decommissioning of existing structures, in alignment with the recent UNEP Production Gap report and inspired by the analogous “Nuclear non-proliferation treaty” (see www.fossilfueltreaty.org and Newell et al 2018)
(3) a common public funding scheme to enable and drive rapid transformation to 100% renewable energy systems, in line with e.g. trajectories for global and regional 100% renewable energy scenarios (for example Teske et al 2019), and work inspired by the Stanford-research group (see Jacobson et al 2019) which outline solutions for 150 countries; linking this scheme to the care for the loss and damage of the ones already suffering from the crisis.
And two principles:
We should achieve this by
(4) implementing in each step social justice and equity as core principles (mentioned both in the Climate convention and the Paris Agreement),
(5) leading to and based upon the democratic principle of non-dominance (gender, ethnicity, class, …).
The three pillars
1 Real-zero emissions (instead of “net” zero) by implementing emission budgets according to the P1 scenario of the IPCC SR 1.5-report (instead of end-year targets such as 2045 or 2050), leading to the implementation of national and local action plans
All political action has to focus on the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted, reducing them drastically from now on: there are only around 350 GT available worldwide to — even very unlikely — stay within the 1.5-degree target, with an ongoing emission of around 45 GT annually (Anderson et al 2019). Keeping the tiny global budget means a reduction in emissions by far more than ten percent every year for richer countries and near-zero emissions towards the end of the decade. The budgets can be broken down to global, national, local and individual levels and enforced as the core political framework for all new legislation. The talk of “net” zero emissions should be replaced by “near”-zero emissions, because otherwise we just add the burden to the generation of the striking children: they have to use highly risky technologies that do not exist to eliminate our emissions from the atmosphere.
This requires a change in all systems and social sectors, for example by tightening the relevant standards every year. As affirmed by overwhelming evidence, this means a switch to renewable energies; to predominantly vegetable food, and agro-ecological agriculture; to public and generally fossil-free means of transport; to sustainable zero-emissions buildings; and a restructuring of the political economy, the financial sector and the monetary system that make this transition possible, rather than forcing to the opposite. States, municipalities and institutions must submit action plans which show exactly which policies will be employed and how these will radically reduce emissions every year.
2 A global “treaty” to stop the construction, financing and operation of fossil infrastructure and to keep the gas, oil and coal in the ground; analogous to the nuclear “non-proliferation treaty”
According to the UNEP Production Gap report, it is already impossible for us to avoid a warming by more than 1.5 or even 2 degrees with the fossil infrastructure (oil, gas, coal) already in place, planned and under construction. According to the report, the fossil fuel industry plans to produce at least twice the amount of coal, gas and oil allowed to have any chance of keeping warming below 1,5°C. That is why we immediately need a global contract, a treaty to stop this further planning, use and construction of all fossil infrastructure. We have to leave the fossil fuels in the ground and mark them as “toxic”. This can be modelled after the “nuclear non proliferation treaty”. We can and should mark the extraction and burning of fossil fuels as potentially analogous to pressing the red button. There are scientifically substantiated proposals to shape this global contract (see www.fossilfueltreaty.org and Newell et al 2018).
3 Establishing a renewable global-local energy system with ambition, vision and means to rapidly move the whole world to 100% renewable energy, linking this scheme to the care for the loss and damage of the ones already suffering from the crisis
There are already detailed calculations (with public funds) for the construction of a global renewable energy system, planned for 150 countries, coupled with calculations for the improvements in “public health” (Jacobson et al 2019). The global modelling toward 100% renewable energy for 1,5°C by Teske et al (Teske et al 2019) likewise shows how renewables can meet all energy demands, lower costs, and create meaningful work. Groups of countries such as the Least Developed Countries have launched initiatives to go for universal energy access and 100% renewables (see www.reeei.org). Subsidies for all aspects of (and investments in expanding the) fossil industry must be stopped immediately and the transition publicly funded.
At least 30 percent of the world’s oceans and surfaces must be protected as commons by UN decisions (Rockström 2020); forests protected and expanded. This must be combined with a set of rules that breaks the logic of the exponentially increasing new production of goods and the littering and destruction of human and animal habitats (see non-dominance-principle).
The two principles
In this fundamental transformation of our societies, we should demand the implementation of two guiding principles that should lead the process.
4 Justice / Fairness principle
The Paris agreement already demands all nations to act according to social justice and equity principles. It should be formulated with regard to a historic dimension, a global dimension (global north and south) and a national dimension (of social justice and equality within countries).
Globally, this principle implies that richer countries to do their “fair share” (http://civilsocietyreview.org) need to not only reduce their own emissions to zero as soon as technically possible, but also enable much more emissions reductions in poor countries by providing finance, technology and other support to their transition away from fossil fuels (mitigation), as well as paying for both adaption and loss and damage. This equity principle implies as well that there is a smaller part of the global emission budget available for richer countries, and that they shall not be able to “buy” them out of real emission reductions through carbon trading. In a climate emergency crisis world where all have to reach near zero emissions as soon as possible, there is no room for off-sets. It comes also with an obligation to listen to the needs and knowledge of the indigenous people.
5 Non-dominance / democratization principle
During all steps of this global, national and local transition we must implement the basic democratic principle of getting rid of relations and structures of dominance (5), securing a better democratic foundation for all of society.
This ensures that existing unequal power structures are dismantled and new ones are prevented, in relation to nature (“ecocide”; soil leaching; animal mistreatment…) and other human beings. Research in humanities has provided so-called intersectional analyses of power structures (gender, class, ethnicity, etc.) for this transformation, resulting in a connectedness to others, the world and oneself (this connectedness is sometimes — in a problematic individualistic way — conceptualized as well-being; see https://davidfopp.com/lecture-inputs-stockholm-university). Transnational solutions (such as the problematic “green climate fund”) must also be designed in such a way that certain social classes or individuals dont benefit from the transformation at the expense of others, but that structural relationships of dominance (from economy to working place) are being broken down.
In the longer term, this perspective could lead to a new formulation of our relationship with nature and with each other as fellow citizens of the world (for example in a new “article zero” of the UN charter).
Democracy is not just a formal form of electoral processes. It is a substance, basically meaning: overcoming relations of dominance and creating accepting and helping encounters at eye level. This is already formulated as the core of the ´48-declaration pointing to the implementation of political structures which allow a life in dignity for everyone.
The goal is often formulated as creating together a dignified life for everyone on a habitable planet, or in a somewhat longer version: about supplying the basic needs of everyone (from food, equality and housing, to education and political participation) in a way, so that the planetary limits (climate, biodiversity, pollution, nitrates, …) are not exceeded (this term of “limits” is rather problematic; the limitation lies in our own structural behavior, not nature itself). This basic double-orientation — supplemented by the non-dominance/democratization principle outlined above — is intended to specify the orientation of all policies in global, national and local documents and to replace the existing goals.
Behind these five points of the “one people, one planet” -transformation could everyone, all people of this living planet unite, if it is articulated, as a global democratic political movement which goes on, even if there is no march or demonstration happening. The demands can be implemented immediately; they address all levels, from the local to the global. The political rules of all governments, parties, institutions, movements and the relevant social actors can be measured against them and articulated accordingly. They outline what needs to be done now and provide the long-term compass.
However, enforcing them requires that ordinary people “like you and me” start to rebel and are not lulled by the talk of “net zero emissions 2050”. The governments of nations such as Switzerland, Sweden and Germany are miles away from the change outlined, not to mention the regimes in Brazil, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. We need the “rebellion of the hesitant and fearful”. Marching and petitions are not enough. We need new common political rules. Worldwide. For this we can and must stand up, non-violently, together.
Anderson, Kevin (2019): “Climate´s holy trinity”, Oxford Lecture. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BZFvc-ZOa8
Fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty: www.fossilfueltreaty.org
Gap-report (2019): https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2019
Jacobson et al. (2019): “Impacts of Green New Deal Energy Plans on Grid Stability, Costs, Jobs, Health, and Climate in 143 Countries”, in “One Earth 1”, s. 449–463
Newell, Peter & Simms, Andrew (2019): Towards a fossil fuel non-proliferationtreaty, Climate Policy, DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2019.163675
Rockström, Johan (2020): https://sverigesradio.se/avsnitt/1425542
Teske, Ssven et al (2019): Achieving the Paris Climate Agreement Goals, Springer
Thunberg, Greta (2019): No one is too small to make a difference. Penguin